Close to two years ago, I made a 20 hours journey from Singapore to Rochester, United States with much joy and happiness in my heart as I was going to witness the happy union between two wonderful individuals, my best friend Dr Yap Tsiao Yi and her boyfriend of 9 years Dr Tan Tow Shung.
Last Friday, I made a one hour journey from Singapore to Penang. But this time, it was with a heavy laden heart. Tow Shung has returned to the arms of the Lord last Wednesday on 18 May 2011. When I first heard the news, my first reaction was shock, followed by grief.
Tow Shung was diagnosed with advanced stage metastatic esophageal cancer in Oct 2007. He was only 29. Tow Shung went to Chung Ling High School in Penang before pursuing his medical degree at IMU (then known as IMC) in Kuala Lumpur. He was on the Dean's List. He was the President of the Student Council. Later, he went off to complete his medical degree at McGill University together with Tsiao Yi. Thereafter, he started his medical career at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. He had an amazing and bright future ahead of him.
Many people would have asked "Why me?" Many would have curse God. Many would have turn away from their faith. But Tow Shung never did that. His faith in the Lord has never wavered in the last 3 years and 7 months. Tow Shung passed away peacefully at home, lying on his bed, with his wife and best friend Tsiao Yi by his side. And at his bedside table was his bible and other Christian literature.
At the wake service, his soon-to-be 90 years old grandfather shared his memories of Tow Shung. His grandfather said that Tow Shung was a great organiser – he organised his 50th, then 60th wedding anniversary celebration. Tow Shung promised to organise his 90 years old birthday this year…
His mother shared that one of the best qualities of Tow Shung is his sense of responsibility. Even when he was about 4 years old, she could rely on him to look after his baby sister and report on all the important things that have happened while his mum was away.
His younger sister shared about his humility and his consideration for others. She told us about how towards the last few weeks of his life, as his body started to jerk uncontrollably at times and he would drop his utensils or food at the dining table and he would apologise profusely, when their mother would be happy to scold the table instead.
His father spoke about reading the many well-wishes and kind notes on the blog that Tow Shung has created on Caring Bridge to share his journey with cancer. Yes, Tow Shung called it a journey. His father was overwhelmed and in awe with the many messages left on his blog… knowing how many lives Tow Shung has touched and inspired: doctors, nurses, patients, friends and strangers alike all around the world.
Many have written about him in their blogs and their Facebook statuses. One young medical student is so inspired by Tow Shung that he has decided to start a medical blog. He said Dr Tan Tow Shung is his role model.
Tow Shung was not only a serious student but he also knows when and how to have fun. His buddy, a fellow doctor, shared the beautiful memories and fun times they had while studying abroad in this video.
I never got to know Tow Shung as well as I would have liked as he and Tsiao Yi were based in the US, and me in Asia. Yet, reading his blog, I have been deeply inspired by his strength and his courage as he journeyed along the last 3 years and 7 months. Many would have given up and turned bitter with life. Many would have just stopped living, and just let cancer take over their life. But he did not do that.
Tow Shung went on to complete his specialist studies at Mayo Clinic. He tied the knot with his college sweetheart Tsiao Yi after 9 years of courtship.
It was a very beautiful and touching wedding and I am so grateful that I could be there to witness their testament of true and unconditional love. Many were initially apprehensive of their union as he has stage 4 cancer. However, my brave best friend never hesitated as she said 'yes' to his marriage proposal. In the last 3 years and 7 months, she has been his greatest supporter, his caretaker and his pillar of strength.
As they returned to Malaysia last year, he could have just stayed at home and rest, we would all have understand… but yet he continued to touch lives and inspire others as he joined Penang Medical College as a lecturer.
The pastor at the funeral service was right… Tow Shung has lived a full and complete life. Tow Shung has lived his life to the fullest.
At the funeral service last Saturday, there was not one dry eye in the church. Tow Shung has touched all of us in so many ways. He was a faithful believer, a loving husband, a filial son, a caring physician and a loyal brother, nephew, cousin and friend.
His strength and his courage would continue to inspire us all. His positive take on his journey as a cancer patient will always remind me that…
We ALWAYS have a choice. We can either curse and complain when life throws us a curve ball. Or we can face up to it and make the best out of life and live our life to the fullest. For that, I forever thank him…
Tow Shung, till we meet again on that beautiful shore…
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